Further education staff need to be prioritised in the rollout of the UK’s Covid vaccination programme to protect staff and reduce disruption to learning, support staff union Unison and the Association of Colleges have said.
Speaking as MPs debated whether school and childcare staff should be given priority in access to Covid-19 vaccination, AoC chief executive David Hughes said the government rightly wanted to reopen education settings as a national priority as soon as it was safe to do so.
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“One step that would help achieve that is to include teachers and college staff as priorities in phase two of the programme. Prioritising vaccination for education staff, combined with mass testing and all of the measures colleges are taking will be a sure way reduce transmissions and remove any further disruption to students’ learning.”
Unison head of education Jon Richards said time and again, the government had “ignored the concerns of FE support staff, many of whom have no option but to be in work helping vulnerable learners”.
He added: "Their safety has been all but ignored, despite being at greater risk from the virus because they tend to be older and are more likely to be Black. They’re also working between secure bubbles more than other education staff.
"Ministers must protect all education staff and ensure they’ve access to the vaccine before any mass return to face-to-face learning. To do anything less would be a betrayal of FE workers."
Speaking in the Westminster Hall debate this evening, Covid vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said while the government wanted to minimise disruption for learners, its approach to vaccinations was about “saving as many lives as possible as quickly as possible."
"We are following the science, and we are vaccinating according to the [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)] prioritisation," he added.
"Obviously, if a teacher or a school - or a childcare worker falls within one of the cohorts they will be absolutely contacted by the NHS at the appropriate time to receive the vaccine but the importance of starting with our most vulnerable groups cannot be overstated, there is no evidence that teachers, schools or childcare workers are at higher risk of mortality."